What Is Electrocution?

Dan Cavallari

Electrocution occurs when a living being is killed by electric currents passing through the body. The term is sometimes used to refer to any instance of electricity passing through the body, though this is not technically correct. Electrocution may occur accidentally or intentionally, and many regions of the world use the electric chair to execute criminals. The electric chair electrocutes the criminal until the heart stops. The electric current causes fibrillation in the heart, or rapid muscle contractions that will lead to death if they are not reversed within a reasonable time frame.

Contact with power lines could cause electrocution.
Contact with power lines could cause electrocution.

The topic of electrocution as an execution method is often debated as inhumane. The process can be very painful for the person being executed, and arguments have been made that it is cruel and unusual punishment. While this form of execution is used far less than it has been in the past, electrocution is still an acceptable form of execution in many regions of the world. Electricity is passed through the person's body, usually through a connecting plate or fixture affixed to the person's head. The term "ride the lightning" refers to death by electrocution because of the large currents of electricity and the thrashing a victim often undergoes during the process.

An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.
An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.

Accidental electrocution can happen under several circumstances. Any living being that makes contact with enough of an electrical current can be killed by the electricity. Contact with live power lines, for example, can cause a person to become electrocuted. The skin can be burned as a result of such contact, in addition to the internal injuries one may sustain. It is possible to reverse the effects of electrocution to save a person's life, but this is a difficult process that needs to be done in a timely manner. A device known as a defibrillator can reverse the fibrillation of the heart that resulted from the electric shock, though this is not a surefire solution to the problem.

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The brain can also be drastically affected by electrocution, and even if the person survives the electric shock, he or she is likely to have sustained severe damage to the brain. This damage may manifest itself in a variety of ways, and if a person survives, he or she may still be technically considered brain dead. Men tend to be affected by electric shocks less than women, though this is not to say they are more likely to survive electric shocks.

A person who is hit by lightning could easily be electrocuted.
A person who is hit by lightning could easily be electrocuted.

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Discussion Comments


The precautions you can take to avoid the risks of electrocution are during any kind of test, make sure that no one is standing nearby you, make sure all parts of the circuit are well fixed and nothing can be moved accidentally, make sure the individual has read and understood all the safety procedures that come with the electrical equipment you are about to use. Always check electrical cords and connectors for fraying and signs of wear and defects, as well as any electrical equipment you are about to use.


I used to have a little electric shock when I was eleven. In my ignorance, I pushed a button on the ceiling fan, which is mounted to the house wall. That button was out of order and electricity leaked from it. All of a sudden, I felt a little shock throughout my body, specifically around my heart.


My husband had a co-worker who was electrocuted while they were working on a bridge. Fortunately the fire department was located close to one end of the bridge and so help was able to arrive in a very short time.

They did give him CPR before the help arrived, and got him to the hospital right away. When we visited him that night in the hospital, he said he felt fine, but you could tell his brain was not working quite right and he kept repeating himself over and over again.

He said he was ready to go home that night, but they kept him hooked up and watched his brain activity all night long just to be sure. He was able to go home the next day, and has not had any problems since.

It was quite a scary situation for all those on the crew because they didn't know if he was going to make it or not. The guy who was electrocuted doesn't remember anything about what happened at all.


Every time I think of electrocution, I think of the scene in Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” where the little man with the mouse is put to death.

The prison guard who was in charge of putting the sponge in the bucket of water so that the electricity would flow easily into the man’s body did not wet it out of pure spite.

As a result, the death row inmate doesn't die immediately as he's supposed to. They have to keep giving the juice to him so that he will die, but it catches his head on fire.

That part of the movie is a part that I just can’t watch. I literally have to close my eyes and cover my ears now because it affects me so profoundly. It makes me nauseous and I ball like a little child.

I do believe in the death penalty – I think sometimes people do things that are bad enough that they really don’t deserve to live anymore.

But, I just don’t see how anyone with any moral standard could intentionally do something like that to another person – no matter what they’ve done wrong.

I don't think that electrocution picture, although staged, will ever leave me.


@Sara007 – My kids have had the same problem.

We used to eat our meals at our kitchen island – I guess my daughter was about three years old at the time. On the side where our chairs are there is an outlet. Now, this was not a new thing, but for some reason she decided to play with that outlet one evening.

Thank goodness, I was not alone with her, which I normally would have been because her father worked nightshift. Luckily, my sister and her husband were there.

All of a sudden, the lights flickered and I saw that my little one had a strange look on her face, and her hand beneath the counter where I couldn’t see it. I was sitting right next to her!

She had taken a pair of tweezers from someplace and sneakily stuck them in the outlet! I grabbed her hand and pulled her off, because she couldn’t let go. I got a little shock to, but we were okay.

To this day I think what saved her from any real electrocution injuries was the fact that she was playing in a pair of old galoshes.

My brother in law cut off the power and retrieved the tweezers, which were completely melted on one end. Needless to say, she has never done such a thing again.


@Mammmood - I am opposed to death by electrocution and capital punishment in general; so I partly agree with you.

I don’t consider lethal injection to be any more humane than a man electrocuted in a chair. It just happens to be less gruesome I suppose but that doesn’t make it ethical.

I haven’t seen any valid statistics to indicate that capital punishment deters crime on any level, regardless of which execution method is used.


I believe in capital punishment; however I am glad that the electrocution chair is no longer an option in many states.

It’s not that I buy into the argument that it’s inhumane. It’s that the technology has been imperfect. There have been cases where the chair failed to work properly, or fires were started leading to gruesome spectacles of death as the subjects were exposed to repeated jolts of electricity.

It’s an arcane form of punishment that is a throwback to an earlier era when people didn’t have better ways to execute (although I guess death by hanging or gun squads were also alternatives). I’m glad that we have the more humane form of death by lethal injection.


@manykitties2 - My cat likes to chew cords, too, but I think she has outgrown it. She chewed all the way through a live power cord! I would have thought that would give her a bad chock, but then she went and did it again.

Even seasoned professionals can be electrocuted. My grandfather's brother and the brother's son were both electricians. They were both electrocuted on the job. Electricity is a little like cars - we take them for granted and never think about getting electrocuted or crashing, but both can be absolutely deadly.


My kids used to love to fiddle with the outlets in our house and I was terrified that one of them was going to do something stupid and stick a fork in the socket.

If you have kids that like to play around a good idea is to buy some special covers from your outlets. These covers are difficult for small hands to remove and can prevent electrocution by denying kids the ability to put anything foreign into the socket.

Socket covers are basically just something to plug up the holes that allow access to the flow of electricity. They can be easily purchased at any home improvement store.


For those with pets electrocution can be a huge concern. I know my cat loves to chew on cords and I am always worrying that she is going to give herself a good zap trying to bite through something she shouldn't.

One of the things that worked for me is to coat my cords with a thin layer of hot-pepper sauce. Not enough to soak the cord, but just enough to leave an unpleasant taste on it. This kept my cat from causing more damage to the cords and from electrocuting herself. If the coating of cords doesn't work you may need to tape them to the wall to prevent pet access.

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